RFID Description

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips have become essential in industry. Here you can find out what RFID means and how communication between transponder and reader works in detail. Radio Frequency Identification is a type of communication between a transmitter (transponder or tag) and a receiver (reader). The system works fully automatically and is used for contactless communication, identification and localisation of objects such as goods, medicines, vehicles or living beings. RFID therefore also falls under the keyword Auto-ID (Automatic Identification and Data Acquisition). For successful use, a transmitter, a receiver, energy and a certain distance are required. In logistics, technology perfects and simplifies processes and ensures a fast movement of materials. Process optimisation in intralogistics using RFID is also largely standard today, so the technology is an essential element for the success of logistics 4.0. Despite the many advantages, the opportunities and limitations of UHF transponders should always be weighed up.

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RFID vs Barcode

The question of RFID vs. barcode has often been described in terms of the past vs. the future, with partisans of both technologies keen to prove that theirs is the best option.

Generally speaking, there is a lot of overlap between RFID and barcode, as they both try to solve similar problems in asset-heavy industries. As much as we often talk about one of these technologies as the only possible solution, it is quite common to see both in use at the same time.

Difference Between RFID and Barcode

RFID

  • You can scan multiple tags at once, which results in fast reading. Because RFID allows you to identify each individual item, you will avoid scanning twice the same item, which is a recurring issue with barcode.
  • RFID tags are sturdier and more reusable. They can be read also in harsher environments. Advanced RFID tags can even embed sensors for temperature, humidity or moisture.
  • You don’t need line of sight for tag reading. If you are within range, you can read RFID tags even at a distance (reading range up to 15 meters).
  • RFID tags can store more data and with a higher degree of complexity, like product maintenance information and expiry dates. Moreover, that data can be encrypted. This also means you can identify specific items (for example, RFID does not only identify a product or SKU, but enables you to track and trace individual units with the same SKU).
  • More secure, accurate, and less labor-intensive.
  • Metal and liquids can interfere with the functioning of RFID tags (but the technology is rapidly evolving).
  • Tag information can be encoded (read and write functionality).
  • BARCODE

  • You need to scan each tag individually, which results in slow reading.
  • Barcode tags are printed on paper or adhesive and they tend to suffer more from wear and tear. Dirty or damaged tags cannot be read.
  • You need to keep the scanner in line of sight with the tag, which results in short reading range.
  • Barcode tags can only store a limited amount of data, usually generic information like name, SKU, and manufacturer.
  • Lighter and usually cheaper.
  • Read-only functionality.
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    Functionality of RFID : The Transponder

    The RFID transmitter is called a transponder, sometimes also a tag or simply a radio tag. It consists of an antenna (often a coil), a computer chip and a carrier material or housing. The chip is equipped with analog and digital circuits, and it also has a memory that can sometimes be written to several times. In some cases, the transponder is a semiconductor chip. Tags differ in several factors. Among other things, they have different sizes, lifetimes, clock frequencies, memory sizes or ranges.

    The chips have a unique identity in the form of a serial number so that they can be clearly identified. The identity cannot be changed, which can prevent abuse. If it is a rewritable memory, the identity can be extended continuously and fully automatically by additional information (Auto-ID). In this respect, for example, previous locations of goods are interesting. RFID technology is also essential when it comes to choosing the right order picking procedure.

    Tags usually do not have their own energy supply. In this case, the transponder is called passive. The reader delivers the necessary energy for data transmission to the tag. The antenna must be a coil that charges a capacitor by induction. Exceptions called active transponders have their own battery. Their use is worth it if the tag is to have a long range and various additional functions.

    Transponders can be attached to or in the object to be marked. For example, they are stuck on (e.g. on pallets or cartons), embedded directly in objects (e.g. in screws, shoe soles, banknotes or documents) and even implanted in living beings (in pets behind the ear, in people's hands). Successful research and development have made it possible to use temperature-resistant transponders since 2006. Since then, they can even be cast in metals, which has various advantages: the risk of damage, wear and tear or loss is minimised and they are also invisible.

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    Functionality of RFID: The Reader

    A reader that must be in close range reads the tag's data using an alternating electromagnetic field or high-frequency radio waves. The receiver is also known as a reader. In addition to purely readout readers, there are also readers that can write new information to the transponder's memory. The transmitted radio waves are influenced by the tag because it reflects part of the energy. First, the unique identity and any other requested information are transmitted. In addition, different things can be stored.

    The reader is a combination of hardware and specially programmed software. The more range a reader should have, the more energy in the form of electrical current must be used for its use. Typical ranges are between a few centimeters and a few meters. The smaller the range, the more precisely selected transponders can be addressed.

    A longer range can be chosen, for example, if two objects should not be too close together. This is the case, for example, with containers containing flammable liquids and spark spraying equipment. Readers for radio frequency identification are available as handheld versions for manual operation, but can also take on various other forms, for example in the form of a gate through which goods flows.

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    Disadvantage of RFID

    The transmitting or receiving power of RFID systems can be disrupted, destroyed or interrupted. Possible causes are:

  • Electromagnetic pulses (EMP).
  • physical destruction of the transponder antenna (e.g. by simple cutting).
  • Faraday cage and other forms of shielding (such as aluminium foil)
  • interference transmitter with the same frequency as that of the tag
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